Seniority should not be the standard

Seniority should not be the standard

From the day I walked through my classroom doors as a first-year teacher, I knew I was there for a reason. It wasn’t for the salary. It wasn’t for the summers off. It was because I knew that I would have the privilege of impacting students’ lives.

I don’t use the word “privilege” lightly — educating the next generation of children in this country should be treated as such. Unfortunately, teaching positions are too often taken for granted. And while most teachers give it their all, there are sadly some who can’t raise the bar for their students.

In a time of budget crunching across the country, it is becoming more and more clear that New York is not immune. Both Gov. Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg have stated that teacher layoffs are not simply a possibility; they are a reality.

Layoff decisions need to be made based on effectiveness, and not simply on seniority. Current state law dictates a “last in, first out” policy that is quality-blind. But turning a blind eye to teacher quality in this decision-making process will mean turning a blind eye to our students.

As an educator, the last thing I want is to see any of my colleagues be laid off. I know what the implications will be for my students — larger class sizes, fewer extracurricular activities, less individualized attention. But if we are forced to lose teachers, we need to make sure that we are minimizing the costs to our students’ learning.

It is time that state legislators step up and change the current policy to better reflect the best interests of our students. While measuring teacher effectiveness can be challenging and the “perfect” evaluation system is still a work-in-progress, there are current measures in place in the city that are far better indicators of teacher quality than seniority alone.

For example, last year nearly 2,000 teachers received unsatisfactory ratings from their principals. Hundreds of teachers have excessive absences or lateness. Over 1,200 teachers are not even teaching in full-time positions at all — they are members of the Absent Teacher Reserve pool that earns full salary and benefits for being substitutes or performing clerical duties.

If layoffs are done under the current seniority-based system, there is no doubt that we will be removing excellent teachers from the classroom. It should be our goal to keep all great teachers there, regardless of how long they have been teaching. Our students deserve nothing less.

Michelle Costa is a high school teacher in a Brooklyn public school and is also a member of Educators 4 Excellence, an organization that works to provide teachers with a voice in education policy.